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Silvey resigns from Missouri Senate to join Public Service Commission

Sen. Ryan Silvey, left, converses with Sen. Mike Cierpoit on the first day of the 2018 legislative session. Silvey stepped down from the Senate to join the Public Service Commission.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Ryan Silvey, left, converses with Sen. Mike Cierpoit on the first day of the 2018 legislative session. Silvey stepped down from the Senate to join the Public Service Commission.

Ryan Silvey has been confirmed as the next member of the Missouri Public Service Commission, and has resigned his seat in the State Senate.

The Republican from Kansas City was appointed by Gov. Eric Greitens, who Silvey has criticized for accepting money from politically-active non-profit groups that don’t reveal their donors. He also criticized Greitens for how he dealt with lawmakers in the GOP-controlled General Assembly.

“While the governor and I have had our differences, energy policy is not one of those,” Silvey said during his confirmation hearing. “We’ve never clashed on that, and when they called and asked if I would consider the position, I was honored to do so.”

Silvey’s confirmation was unanimous and had strong support from both Democrats and Republicans, who praised him as an “independent” voice.

“If you think you know what decisions (Silvey) is going to make, you don’t,” said Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City. “He’s going to review the facts, he’s going to study the issues, and he’s going to do what he thinks is right.”

“Because of the budget hawk that you’ve been in the past, I hope that you carry that same passion to the (Public Service Commission), and make sure that investor-owned utilities are kept in check and that consumers at the end of the day are always looked out for,” Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, told Silvey during his confirmation hearing Thursday.

Behind the scenes

Silvey served in the Missouri House from 2005 to 2012, and served as chair of the House Budget Committee for four years. He was elected to the Missouri Senate in 2012 and re-elected in 2016, and served as vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In a telephone interview with St. Louis Public Radio, Silvey said his transition from senator to PSC commissioner came about "very quickly" — adding that he was surprised that it happened. He said his first contact with Greitens' office was last Friday.

"And they asked if I would be interested in the position," Silvey said. "And given my chairmanship of the [Senate Commerce Committee] and [the fact that] I've filed some utility reform regulation bills the last few years, I was. But I didn't think it would go this quick. I thought I would still be a senator next week."

Silvey went on to say that he was heavily involved in crafting legislation during a 2017 special session that altered utility regulations as a way to foster economic development in southeast Missouri.

"That is an area where we have been able to find common ground and actually work together," Silvey said. "Of course people are cynical. It's a cynical world right now. We live in a cynical country. And everybody's going to take the most negative view possible. But truly this is an area that I understand and am interested in — and have experience in. And you know, I think the governor is taking advantage of that for a position he needed to fill."

Silvey not only clashed with Greitens, but also sharply diverged with Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard on a number of policy fronts. The Joplin Republican said on Thursday that he was surprised that Greitens picked a vocal critic like Silvey to serve on the PSC.

“There’s no sense in holding a grudge around here, because these guys, especially these young guys, got to understand that your enemy today is your friend tomorrow,” Richard said. “Because it takes 18 to do anything over here and you just don’t hold a grudge.

“You know what? I applaud him. He’s going to have a nice career move — so good for him,” he added.

At this point, it's unknown when Greitens will call a special election for Silvey's Clay County-based Senate seat. Possible candidates include Republican Rep. Kevin Corlew, as well as Democratic state Reps. Lauren Arthur, Jon Carpenter and Mark Ellebracht. Party committees will choose the nominees for the special election, which is expected to be competitive. 

"It's going to be a competitive Senate race," Silvey said. "The Republicans can retain that seat with the right candidate. And frankly, it's dependent upon the Democratic candidate as well. If the Democrats nominate someone extreme as they did [in the 8th District Senate race], then it will be easier for Republicans to retain the seat."

The Senate also confirmed former Republican Senator Will Kraus of Lee’s Summit to a seat on the State Tax Commission. Kraus spent seven years in the Missouri Senate and six years in the House. He made an unsuccessful bid for Secretary of State, losing the GOP nomination to Jay Ashcroft.

Kraus also sponsored efforts to require photo identification for voting and led efforts in the Senate to lower state income tax rates.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum contributed information to this report.

Follow Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.